A local boy looks at US Army soldiers as they conduct a morning patrol through the village of Kowall in Arghandab District on July 11, 2010. (Reuters/Bob Strong)
What’s going on with the off-again, on-again talks between the United States and the Taliban in Qatar? To start with, it isn’t clear what the United States wants from the talks, the Taliban is overplaying its hand, and Hamid Karzai is getting in the way.
If there is going to be a peaceful end to the war in Afghanistan unlikely as that may be, it will come when the United States, Afghanistan and Pakistan all agree on a rebalancing of the government in Kabul, probably with a new constitution and probably either including the Taliban in the new regime or giving the Taliban effective control of parts of southern Afghanistan in some sort of federal system.
That won’t make many people happy. Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s former ambassador to the United States and a noted opponent of both Pakistan’s military and Pakistan’s Islamists, wrote an op-ed for The New York Times on June 27 warning the United States not to commit the “blunder” of talking to the Taliban:
Unlike most states or political groups, the Taliban aren’t amenable to a pragmatic deal. They are a movement with an extreme ideology and will not compromise easily on their deeply held beliefs.
Haqqani may be right. The Taliban leadership are indeed fanatics, and in recent years—as their ability to mount any sort of ground offensive has faltered—they’ve slaughtered thousands of Afghan civilians in terror bombings. But where Haqqani may be wrong is that the Taliban has from the beginning been a cats’-paw for Pakistan’s military intelligence service, the ISI, and if Pakistan exerts the sort of pressure that it can bring to bear on Mullah Omar, the Quetta Shura leadership, and the so-called Haqqani group—no relation to Ambassador Haqqani—then it’s possible that the Taliban will be pragmatic enough to strike a deal. At the very least, the Taliban can make a clean break with Al Qaeda and renounce terrorism.
Pakistan’s powerful military has played a central role in convincing Afghanistan’s Taliban rebels to hold talks with the United States, U.S. and Pakistani officials said, a shift from widely held views in Washington that it was obstructing peace in the region.
According to Pakistan’s Express Tribune, a project of the International Herald Tribune, “months-long painstaking and secret negotiations involving Islamabad and Washington” led to the opening for talks in Qatar. The newspaper says that the goal of the talks is a new government in Afghanistan: